When you think about going to the dentist, you probably don’t think about which type of dentist you need to go to. The reality is that there are tons of different kinds of dentists, and each has its own unique specialties to make your teeth, gums, and jaw look exactly as they should.
Here’s everything you need to know about the various types of dentists, including why you might need to go to each one.
When you tell someone you’re going to the dentist, the chances are high that you’re seeing a general dentist. These professionals have an all-around understanding of your teeth, gums, and oral health as it relates to your overall health.
When you go to a dentist’s office for a check-up and a cleaning, a general dentist will likely come in at the end of your visit to check for any abnormalities. They are also the ones who are responsible for conducting root canals, cavity removals, and placing dental crowns. They can also refer you to other types of dentists if there is a concern that is outside of their scope of practice.
General dentists are different from oral hygienists, who are not technically dentists because they have not received the same amount of schooling. Hygienists are the ones who examine your teeth, clean your teeth, and give you X-rays during the duration of your visit. Hygienists can not diagnose you with diseases, and they can not treat diseases.
You’d see a general dentist for routine cleanings and examinations as well as common dental treatments like cavity fillings, root canals, or crowns. You’d also typically see a general dentist if you’re having other problems with your teeth so you can get a referral elsewhere.
Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry that focuses on your bite, specifically malocclusion. Essentially, if your teeth do not fit properly in your jaw, orthodontists work to provide corrective treatments to straighten and align your teeth.
Improving the way your teeth meet in your upper and lower jaw can reduce your risk of cavities, gum disease, and erosion of your enamel. Orthodontists are doctors who have received an additional two to three years of training after dental school graduation. They won’t perform treatments under general dentistry, like crowns, bridges, or fillings.
You’d go to an orthodontist to receive treatments that help align your teeth, like braces, invisible aligners, retainers, and palate expanders. These can fix things like crowded bites, overlapping teeth, underbites, and overbites, as well as impacted teeth.
Endodontists are dental health specialists that focus their practice on diagnosing and treating tooth pain and root canal treatments. Like any specialist in the dental field, they have an extra two to three years of experience after dental school.
While general dentists might be able to help save your tooth through a root canal in many cases, there might be times when damage is too severe for their expertise. An endodontist is highly skilled and is able to use more advanced techniques to help save your natural teeth and avoid extraction.
You might be referred to an endodontist if you have a severe case of tooth decay that might require more extensive treatment than a root canal alone. Additionally, if you have tooth pain without an underlying cause, an endodontist could help you pinpoint the underlying cause.
Periodontists, also known as gum specialists, are skilled dentists who focus on issues affecting problems with the gums. Many patients are referred to a periodontist for serious cases of gum disease that are outside of the scope of practice of a general dentist.
Periodontal disease, or gingivitis, can affect your oral health. You might exhibit signs of gum disease if you experience bleeding or swollen gums, loose teeth, a change in your bite, or pain in your gums.
Periodontists can help you find solutions to gum disease, but they can also help with dental implant procedures. Dental implants are permanent replacements for missing or extracted teeth, and since they are implanted directly into the jawbone through the gumline, many patients are sent to periodontists to have this procedure completed.
You may be referred to a periodontist if your gum disease is too severe to be treated in a general dentist’s office or if you need to get dental implants. They also do specialist treatments, including root planing (cleaning), root surface debridement, and cosmetic periodontal procedures, such as gum graft surgery.
An oral surgeon is a specialist dentist that receives some of the highest levels of education compared to others. Not only do they need to graduate from dental school, but they must also attend a four to six year residency program in order to practice.
Oral surgeons conduct invasive surgeries in the gums, teeth, and jaw. Their scope of practice is very wide, but it includes tooth extraction, wisdom tooth removal, oral reconstruction after a traumatic event, and even cancer of the head, neck, and mouth.
Oral surgeons are also specialized in administering anesthesia, and they are also able to diagnose and treat diseases.
The most common reason you may see an oral surgeon is to get wisdom teeth extracted, but they can also do simple and complex extractions of any teeth. They also can do reconstructive surgery for dental victims, soft tissue biopsies, tumor removal, jaw realignment surgery, or implant repositioning.
You’d likely be referred to one by a general dentist if a problem is outside of their scope of practice.
Pediatric dentists, also known as pedodontists, specialize in dental care and treatment for younger children. These dentists are specialized in providing care for teenagers, children, and even infants.
They offer youth-friendly approaches to routine dental care to help children instill healthy habits. They are also skilled in the common problems associated with youth dental care to help monitor a child’s oral development with age.
You might send your child to a pediatric dentist if they are having trouble grasping the skills necessary for proper oral health at a young age. Additionally, these are great specialists to take your child if they have anxiety or fear of a general dentist.
Pediatric dentists can also assess, treat, and diagnose unique dental problems often associated with children, like thumb sucking or baby teeth not becoming loose.
Prosthodontics is a branch of chemistry that is specialized in making artificial teeth or prosthetics. These specialists help make crowns, bridges, implants, dentures, and other types of restorative devices that cannot be made at a general dentist’s office. They also routinely treat TMJ disorders of the jaw.
While general dentists might be able to help with most crowns, bridges, and restorative dentistry, you might be sent to a prosthodontist for help with complex cases. Additionally, if you have TMJ disorders, a general dentist will likely send you to a prosthodontist for additional help.
For individuals who have chronic oral health issues that require ongoing treatment and assessment, an oral medicine specialist might be recommended. These professionals help people with long-term management and have expertise in treating things like mouth sores, dry mouth, facial pain, and more.
Your general dentist might not be able to help see you on a frequent basis if you have chronic problems that need fixing. In those cases, an oral medicine specialist is more available and specialized in helping you assess and treat your needs.
Those who specialize in dental public health create strategies that work to prevent and control dental diseases from spreading throughout a community. They serve the community as a whole rather than individual patients, helping to apply research, education, and administration of dental health programs to help keep communities healthy all around.
Given the nature of this position, you wouldn’t see a public health specialist to treat or get diagnosed with any oral health issues. However, you might see them to attend community workshops or involve yourself in research studies to help better understand diseases of the teeth, mouth, gums, and jaw.
You could see a dental specialist to get relief from complex dental issues that a general dentist is not able to fix. Most dental insurance plans cover two routine visits to a general dentist per year. However, specialist coverage is a bit of a tricky territory.
While many insurance companies do offer specialist coverage, they often come with much higher co-pays. You can usually expect a co-pay of usually double the price of a general dentist if you need to see a specialist. Plus, some insurance companies have annual limits where you cannot see specialists for procedures that cost higher than certain amounts.
Not to mention, over 33% of Americans don’t have dental coverage to begin with, leaving millions of Americans stuck paying out of pocket for dental care, regardless of the reason.
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In most cases, you would never go to a specialist without first being referred by your primary care physician or a general dentist in this case. Typically, you’ll run any questions and concerns by them before they refer you to the appropriate professional to get the help you need.
In cases of a dental emergency, you should call your general dentist first to see what the next steps should be. They can help you in a pinch or recommend the next steps to get you help fast.
There is a wide range of dental specialties outside of what you might know as a general dentist.
Specialist dentists include:
You would likely be referred to one of these specialists by a general dentist to get specific care and treatment for one of many oral health issues. You might even see multiple specialists for a single disease.
The only downfall of seeing a specialist is the price. When insurance companies do cover specialist care, it usually comes with high co-pays. And most insurance companies don’t even go as far as covering specialists.
If you're stuck paying out of pocket, don’t pay full price. Flossy can save you up to 50% off on common dental treatments from general dentistry to orthodontics. Membership is free, and there’s no waiting period to get started.
Reach out to a dentist near you today and take the first step to a happier smile.